If Only I…
Carla Chapel walked on dirty leaves, twigs and branches; all signs of the actual trail had been lost some time ago. She couldn’t even see the sun, with the overcast sky and wind whipping the treetops. An evening storm had definitely rolled in. A tear slid down her cheek; another soon joined it. Now what am I supposed to do? She wondered. If it hadn’t been for that old woman she wouldn’t even be out there. No phone, no flashlight, no matches. How did I ever end up here? She thought back.
Carla and her brother Sam had gone to church their entire lives. During the sermons they had colored and played games, but sometimes she got sleepy and would lay her head down to take a nap. All the while, the preacher talked. As they got older Mama made them put the games away and tried to interest them in listening. Carla was seventeen years old now and the preacher still talked and talked and talked. Sometimes she forgot herself and got interested in listening, but not always. Sitting there today, she had counted the minutes until the service would be over and they could go eat and visit with everyone. That part was fun.
Well, things weren’t so much fun now were they? Carla tripped over a tree branch and sprawled out on the cold ground. “Ouch!” She cried out. Sitting up, she hugged her knee in pain. Stupid branch, getting in my way, Carla thought. My leg hurts! Why had she even come out here? Oh yea, the woman at the church. She said something about a child being lost.
Carla had asked what the child looked like but the she just kept saying a girl was lost and was pointing at the woods. No one else seemed to hear the old woman, and she had seemed distressed, so Carla had gone to look. Within a few yards she seemed to get turned around and the trail just…disappeared. That had been over a half hour ago and she not only couldn’t find the little girl, she was now lost and couldn’t find her way. It was getting dark fast. She stood and could barely walk, her leg hurt, it was cold and stiff. Are you supposed to keep moving or stay where you are? She couldn’t remember. It was getting dark though, and her Mama would be getting pretty worried by now. Carla started crying all over again, thinking about Mama and home. The wind started to howl, it was getting colder. Carla’s leg was throbbing. She saw a downed tree and leaned against it, shivering. She just couldn’t believe the situation she was in. Who gets lost in the woods anymore? Really??
Maria Chapel had enjoyed the service today, Brother Anderson had spoken on one of her favorite bible verses, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13. How she wished that Carla would come to understand that. She remembered her daughter as a small child; how the light had come on in Carla’s eyes when she realized she had just read her first sentence, word by word. She’d been so excited, so eager to read more. Understanding God’s written word was kind of like that for Maria, once she finally understood – it was overwhelming and all she wanted was to read more, more, more! She could only hope that some of the message at church was reaching Carla.
After the service everyone talked and had a nice meal. After they had cleaned up Maria began looking for Sam and Carla. She waved to nine-year old Sam and he headed her way.
“She went in there!” He called as he ran by, pointing. “I saw her.” Maria put down her dishrag and went to get her coat. Her daughter had gone into the woods? It looked like it was going to rain. Marie went out to the cemetery. An old woman sat on a stone bench, watching her approach.
“Carla?” She called, “Carla!” There was no response. It was sprinkling, was Carla wearing her coat? She’d forgotten to ask Sam. She walked up to the old woman and introduced herself.
Carla hugged her knees to her chest; it was less windy underneath the tree. She made herself as small as possible, trying to conserve heat. She didn’t know what to do; she was lost and alone. Seventeen had felt awful grown up just a few hours ago when she had driven the family to church in her mother’s old dodge. It didn’t feel so grown up now. How quickly our fears set in when we lose familiar surroundings. It had only sprinkled, and after a while the wind died down too. Still she was wet and so cold!
Carla’s mind naturally began to go back over the day; getting ready for church, teasing Sam when he couldn’t get his tie right. Feeling poor when she watched him tie on his yard sale shoes that had seen better days. She’d shaken that off and gone out the door to warm up the car. Mama only let her do that when it was really cold. Otherwise she said it was a waste of gas. Someday she’d have enough to buy Mama a decent car but then laughed. Mama wouldn’t warm it up either; she would still think of it as a waste.
At church they had unloaded the food from the trunk of the car and then gone in to service. The congregation was singing, and Carla had to admit she did like the singing part. It was the rest of it that she didn’t know about. It seemed like such a huge thing, giving yourself to God. Was she a believer? How could you be sure about something like that? You read every day about murder, earthquakes in Japan and starving babies in Africa. She knew that God did not cause these things, but it was definitely in his power to prevent them. It was pretty hard to reconcile that letting a newborn baby get shaken to death by a junkie boyfriend somewhere was part of his plan. Mama said that you simply had to have faith, that the plan was not given for us to know.
If I was a good Christian I wouldn’t even be questioning these things would I? …and what about evolution? I mean, the fossils are there, how can you explain that? SO many people said so many things, it was impossible to know what to think!
It was full dark now. The wind had died some time ago, leaving the woods an eerie quiet. The moon was rising and frost was forming on the leaves and the ground. It’ll form on me too if I don’t get moving, she thought, slowly rising to her feet. Her feet and hands were so cold she could hardly feel them anymore. She went a few steps, her leg gave out and she fell to her knees. It hurt so badly that she lost her breath and couldn’t even yell. Oh God, she cried inside. If only I could get my bearings! God, please help me. I don’t know what to do! Carla was lost, physically and spiritually.
Maria spoke to the old woman, trying to find out where Carla had gone. The old woman wasn’t much help. All she did was keep mumbling about the ‘lost girl’ and pointing to the woods. Maria pulled her coat tighter about herself with shivering fingers and turned to the dark trees. She went into the woods herself and tried to make out a trail, tried to see which way her daughter could have gone. It was dark and Maria really couldn’t make anything out. She knew that Carla was struggling lately, had she run away, unable to deal with impending adulthood? That didn’t sound like her daughter. She was such a smart girl. I never had grades like hers, she thought. She has such a bright future ahead of her, if she would only trust herself and believe in the Lord. Maria moved through the trees slowly.
“Carla!” She called again. No answer, not a sound. She found herself at the edge of a small clearing. She knelt right there and prayed to the Lord to help her daughter find her way back. Maria had absolute belief in the Lord; she knew he worked miracles every day. She prayed too, that Carla would find the Lord and know His Love as well.
She opened her eyes and raised her head, hands clasped and raised in supplication in front of her. The moon had come out from behind the clouds and was shining down here and there, making silver and black ribbons out of the forest floor. She could see the clearing, and what was that over there on the other side? It looked like an old stump. As she studied the shadowed lump it began to change shape. No, that was no stump. Something was swinging from it…her breath caught in her throat.
Carla prayed. Probably for the first time in her life, she really, spoke to the Lord. It was more than just a ‘if you get me out of this I’ll be good’ prayer like when she used to get in trouble with her brother. This was a more than the words. It was a stripping away of the outer layers of school, friends, fashion and hairdo’s. She thanked the Lord for the wonderful mother he’d given her, for the kooky brother that looked up to her. She asked the Lord to forgive her for her sins, deeply ashamed. As she prayed it dawned on her. I do. I do believe. She cried with relief, tears streaming down her face. God is real and she had known that all along. Satan had tried to keep her from seeing the true mercy that God had given to all of us. He hid her vision with fancy clothes and covered her ears with loud music. Carla now saw what had been hidden. Satan was the cause of the evil things on earth; we brought that upon ourselves as sinners. But because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we are forgiven and promised a place next to him, with heaven as our home.
“Thank you God, thank you, thank you!” She cried with joy. She wanted to call out her happiness but was too cold to do any more than whisper. Yet she knew that God would hear her. A tear of joy slipped down her cheek. In the dark she heard a sound, different somehow from the rest. She slowly opened her eyes and stared in wonder at the sight in front of her.
Maria let out a long pent-up breath. “Oh.” Was all she could say. On the other side of the clearing her daughter Carla was kneeling, hands clasped in prayer. A stump? Carla’s long hair was swinging, it’s movement had caught Maria’s eye. How could she not have seen? But she hadn’t, it’s like Carla hadn’t been there and now she was.
At the same time Carla opened her eyes and saw Maria in the moonlight. Slowly Carla became aware of the lights from the church shining through the trees behind her mother. Why hadn’t she seen them if she was that close? Was she so desperate that she hadn’t been able to see the path right in front of her? It didn’t matter. Here was Mama and everything was okay. Carla’s eyes were open and now she knew; when you walk with the Lord, all paths will lead you home.